Why You Remove Piercings and Jewelry Before Surgery

It may seem like a giant hassle to remove your jewelry and any piercings you may have prior to surgery, but there are multiple very good reasons for doing so.

It isn't that your surgeon doesn't like piercings, or has a personal issue with wedding rings. Your surgical team just wants to avoid complications whenever possible.

The simple fact is that jewelry can get in the way of a surgical procedure or interfere with an imaging study. While the piercing may be nowhere near the site of a procedure, the practice of removing jewelry remains unchanged.

Surgeon and team position patient under xray machine
Getty Images/Reza Estakhrian

Imaging Studies

Piercings and jewelry can block important structures on imaging studies.

For example, take tongue piercings. When the dentist X-rays of your teeth and jaw, the metal of the piercing makes it impossible to see what's behind the jewelry.

So an X-ray taken from the left side of your jaw would show the teeth on that side, but the teeth behind the jewelry in your tongue won't be visible. Your dentist could easily miss a damaged tooth on the right side.

Plan on removing your piercings when having imaging studies anywhere near the piercing site. For larger scans or any involving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), you would need to remove all jewelry, piercings, and removable dental devices.

Inform the technologist if you have any implants in your body, such as surgical clips, a pacemaker, a cochlear implant, or an artificial hip.

Surgical Procedures

Jewelry can absolutely get in the way of a procedure. If you're having hand surgery, it just makes sense that your rings and bracelets need to be taken off. The same is true for piercings.

If you have nipple piercings, plan on removing them if you're having a surgery on your chest, particularly breast surgery. If you're having abdominal surgery, a belly button piercing will in most cases need to be removed for the duration of the procedure.

Tongue piercings, in particular, can be an issue when having general anesthesia.

The anesthesiologist will insert a breathing tube, called an endotracheal tube, at the beginning of the surgery. This tube can get caught on the piercing, and if the tongue ring comes out, you can swallow it or inhale it into your lung.

A major concern during surgery is the effect metal has on electrocautery, the technique routinely used to electrically seal bleeding vessels. Wearing metal jewelry may cause an electrical arc, resulting in mild to severe burns.

Post-Operative Swelling

Swelling is very common during recovery from surgeries especially surgeries where blood and fluid are transfused, such as during a coronary bypass surgery.

If your rings are snug prior to surgery, swelling can make it impossible to remove them. If they begin to restrict blood flow, they may need to be cut off. It's far easier to take them off before surgery and leave them at home.

With that being said, a surgeon may allow rings to stay on if they not readily removed, such as for older people severe osteoarthritis who cannot physically remove their rings. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis.

If a ring cannot be removed prior to surgery, steps would be taken to ensure that the ring and ring finger are sterile. Jewelry is inherently non-sterile and, as such, has the potential to transmit bacteria or fungi to an open wound.

A Word From Verywell

While the problems caused by jewelry and piercings are admittedly rare, they can cause significant injury that might otherwise be avoided by taking a few minutes to remove them.

So don't fight it. Do yourself a favor and leave any jewelry or piercing safely stored at home or with a loved one until the procedure or surgery is complete.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Liang H, Flint D, Benson B. Why should we insist patients remove all jewellery? Dentomaxillofacial Radiology. 2011;40(5):328-330. doi:10.1259/dmfr/77333052

  3. McGraw Hill Medical. Anesthetic airway management.

  4. Class U, Ehrenwerth J. Body piercing and electrocautery risks. Newsletter - The Official Journal of the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation. Fall 2013;28(2):29-48.

  5. MedlinePlus. After surgery.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.